Saguaro National Park is Arizona’s First Urban Night Sky Place and Why It Is a Big Deal

Saguaro National Park in Tucson has been named a new Urban Night Sky Place for offering authentic, dark views of the night sky despite light pollution from the nearby city

Dark sky places are the best for stargazing, for watching the stars, constellations, galaxies, nebulae, and as much as possible from our planet. As we live in brighter and brighter environments, few of them exist hence the importance of the term itself.

Saguaro National Park in Tucson has been certified as the newest Urban Night Sky Place by Dark-Sky International

Urban Night Sky Place recognition is awarded to sites near or surrounded by large urban areas that actively promote an authentic nighttime experience amid artificial light.

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Saguaro National Park is the first National Park Service location in Arizona to achieve this certification. The park encompasses over 94,000 acres of Sonoran Desert on the western and eastern edges of Tucson.

Tucson and Pima County have played significant roles in curbing light pollution with Tucson being the “first city in the world to have an ordinance to address light pollution for space observation,” Saguaro National Park said in a press release.

Events to celebrate the park’s designation are planned for early 2024.

What is an Urban Night Sky Place?

The Urban Night Sky Place designation recognizes areas that work to promote authentic nighttime experiences despite the challenges posed by significant artificial light.

The designation is part of an effort to combat light pollution which can disrupt ecosystems, affect human health, and waste energy. The certification is given to communities, parks and protected areas that demonstrate robust community support for dark sky advocacy and strive to minimize light pollution.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Where can you stargaze in Arizona?

Arizona offers numerous locations for stargazing due to its clear skies and relatively low light pollution in many areas. Here are some popular places for stargazing in Arizona:

Grand Canyon National Park: The Grand Canyon is a designated Dark Sky Park making it an excellent location for stargazing. The Grand Canyon Star Party is an annual event that attracts astronomers and stargazers.

Oracle State Park: Far enough from light pollution to make the Milky Way visible, the park is another exceptional place to watch the night skies. Though you can’t stay in the park overnight, its American Avenue parking area is available after dark.

Saguaro National Park © Rex Vogel, all rights reserved

Kitt Peak National Observatory: Located southwest of Tucson, Kitt Peak is home to several telescopes and offers nighttime observing programs for visitors.

Saguaro National Park: Saguaro National Park near Tucson has been certified as an Urban Night Sky Place making it a great spot for stargazing while being close to urban areas.

Mt. Lemmon Sky Center Observatory: Featuring the largest telescope in Arizona dedicated to public viewing, the Mt. Lemmon Sky Center Observatory has a popular after-dark viewing program.

Flagstaff: Flagstaff is the world’s first International Dark Sky City. The city has strict lighting ordinances to minimize light pollution. Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff offers stargazing programs.

Fun fact: The Four Corners region of the United States has the most IDA Dark Sky Communities in the world. In fact, Arizona has 19 dark-sky communities and places.

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What is the darkest city in Arizona?

In 2001, Flagstaff was named the world’s first International Dark Sky City. This designation is granted by the International Dark-Sky Association to places that have taken significant steps to minimize light pollution and protect the natural darkness of the night sky.

Arizona’s IDA-certified Dark Sky Parks

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Why is Arizona such a wonderful place for stargazing?

The simple answer: good weather and mountainous geography. On a clear night you can see Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and the Andromeda galaxy. The sky is awash in stars, double stars, and star clusters.

Best practices for stargazing

When stargazing, you need to give your eyes time to adjust to the dark which takes about twenty minutes. Once your eyes are adjusted you’ll be amazed at how much you see in a dark sky. You’ll notice differences in brightness and colors of the stars; you’ll recognize patterns and constellations.

Turn all your light sources off and don’t use your phone while waiting since the light of its screen will ruin your night vision. If you need a light to see where you’re going use a flashlight with a red filter on. You can buy one with a filter or do this yourself by putting a piece of red filter paper under its lens. If you attend a star party, the astronomers will show you how or offer you one with a filter.

Worth Pondering…

The dark sky beckoned the stars so dim and small like speckles of frost.

―Sarah J. Maas, A Court of Mist and Fury